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Diagnosing Trump: Did America elect a madman?

"We warn that anyone as mentally unstable as Mr. Trump simply should not be entrusted with the life-and-death powers of the presidency."

"Trump is a profoundly evil man exhibiting malignant narcissism."

"It doesn't take a psychiatrist to notice that our president is mentally compromised."

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"He is unprecedentedly and abnormally dangerous."

Well, then. Does everyone feel better about the anniversary of the most alarming presidential election in modern history? Probably not, if you've read the new book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, from which the above statements are taken.

The assessments provided in the book are not reassuring. The various psychiatrists and psychologists, none of whom have personally examined the President, paint an alarming picture of the man who controls a nuclear arsenal of thousands of weapons: He is "a malignant narcissist," "an extreme present hedonist" who displays "severe sociopathic traits" and is prone to paranoid delusions and conspiracy theories.

There are two major issues at the heart of the book: One, should mental-health professionals abandon the Goldwater rule, which requires them not to diagnose public figures they have not personally consulted with, if their consciences compel them to? The American Psychiatric Association recently reaffirmed the Goldwater rule, but the experts writing here feel their obligation to the American people supersedes it. In fact, many wish they'd spoken out earlier: As Philip Zimbardo and Rosemary Sword write, "Mental health professionals have failed in their duty to warn, in a timely manner, not only the public but government officials about the dangers of President Donald Trump."

The second, pithily encapsulated by Judith Lewis Herman and Bandy X. Lee, is a question that's haunted the world: "Is the man simply crazy, or is he crazy like a fox? Is he mentally compromised, or simply vile?" The answers to those questions are less clear, although, as several contributors note, the propositions are not mutually exclusive. One psychologist quotes his mentor, who liked to say that "a dog can have both ticks and fleas."

The question of Mr. Trump's mental instability is fascinating, but in a way it is less frightening than another condition that becomes clear as you read the book: He is making his country crazy. The President will be gone, in more time or less; the irrationality, anxiety, paranoia and hatred that he's planted will flourish far longer.

In February, the American Psychological Association reported that stress in the country was rising for the first time since it began its national survey in 2007, with the presidential election a main cause of anxiety. Fifty-seven per cent of respondents cited the political environment as a source of stress.

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"I feel like we are in an emotionally abusive relationship with our President," one of those anxious Americans says in the book. The authors lay out the trauma they're hearing from patients: they're panicky, unable to concentrate, obsessing to an unhealthy degree over keeping up with every development in the news. A year later, this "Trump anxiety disorder" is still causing mental anguish, with no end in sight. "One of the most disturbing thoughts about the Trump presidency," writes psychiatrist Thomas Singer, "is that he has taken up residence not just in the White House but in the psyches of each and every one of us."

That describes the mental chaos the President is causing his detractors (who are numerous; his approval rating has fallen to 36 per cent, according to a CNN poll this week). But what about the effects on his supporters, the hard-core base who see this upheaval as a happy consequence of the election of a chief disruptor? Even they're feeling the effects of an administration that uses lying and the spread of conspiracy theories as a primary tool of communication.

When Mr. Trump spreads patent untruths – about President Obama's birthplace, or the idea that Arabs in New Jersey celebrated 9/11 – and then accuses the press of making up stories that are unfavourable to him, when he lies with complete disregard for even the idea of empirical truth, it shreds the whole fabric that is supposed to bind the electorate. His disregard for truth validates the conspiracies that unite the hard right, from Pizzagate to "false flag" operations in Las Vegas to crimes committed by illegal immigrants. It's not that the cloth is fraying, but rather that it is being purposely unwoven, from the top.

The idea that one mentally unwell person is running the most powerful country in the world is bad enough; the idea that he's making the country ill is far worse.

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